Two centuries ago, French neurosurgeon
Paul Broca dug inside people’s heads
to find the center of speech.
When you no longer speak the lexicon
of consonants and vowels, I touch you there,
on your left temple—Broca’s Area—
to summon the strangled words, release them,
rising to the ceiling of our old kitchen
the way some say the soul
ascends in the final moment when nothing
spoken or unspoken can save us.
Ancient Egyptians considered the brain
a minor organ, discarded it
during mummification. What is it
I want to hear?
Certainly not worthless, worthless
or stupid, so very stupid, the language of
mother to daughter,
soaked in vinegar and bitters, edges turned
danky-green. Not praise or comfort
come too late as we wait
for faint syllables to emerge. Broca’s
broken. It’s compost. My fingertips
on your temporal bone, that shallow cup.
Greek philosophers declared the heart
the center of thought, the brain merely
a machine to cool it.
How odd to touch at all. The skin burns.
All that returns: not sound
but sweet silence.
Candace Pearson’s poems have appeared in leading journals and anthologies nationwide. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, she won the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry for her collection, Hour of Unfolding. She scratches out her work in an old hiker’s cabin in the San Gabriel foothills, north of Los Angeles.